Department of Justice Seal

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Associate Attorney General Kevin J. O’Connor at the Four Corners Indian Country Conference

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 - 8:15 A.M. Local Time

Good morning.   It’s a pleasure to be here.  


I want to begin by thanking the Governor of Isleta Pueblo, Robert Benavidez and U.S Attorney Greg Fouratt for hosting this important conference.    I’d also like to thank Diane Humetewa, the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Brett Tolman, U.S. Attorney for Utah, and Troy Eid, the U.S. Attorney for Colorado.   Your efforts in Indian Country are vitally important and you are recognized as outstanding leaders in this field by many including your colleagues in the Department of Justice.   Finally, thanks goes to my friend John Gillis and his colleagues in the Office of Victims of Crime for their sponsorship of this conference.  


I also want to thank all of you for being here.   The work that you do on behalf of crime victims in Indian Country is public service of the highest order.   Your efforts are critical to the health and well-being of your communities.   As you know first-hand, we face many challenges in Indian Country, including violent crime, domestic violence, methamphetamine, human trafficking, potential threats to national security and crimes against children.  


While the public safety challenges of Indian Country are great, conferences like this one are an important step towards meeting those challenges.   They give us the opportunity to come together, share ideas and learn about real solutions to our common problems.   This conference is no exception.   As the ambitious agenda demonstrates, you are addressing many of our most pressing concerns.  


I look forward to attending conferences like this because they give me the chance to meet the women and men who do the difficult work of keeping America safe and assisting victims of crime.   At the Department of Justice, we are well aware that a victim’s pain doesn’t end immediately after a crime is committed.   Rather, victims continue to suffer during the investigations and trials that follow, and in many cases for years afterward.   A crime is often a quick, discrete act - a shot fired or a purse snatched.   But the effects can linger, with hours and days spent in a hospital bed, or on the telephone trying to reclaim a stolen identity.   Simply put, our system of justice isn’t always easy on the victim.  


The mission of the Department of Justice is not and cannot be limited simply to catching and to prosecuting criminals. To deliver justice, we must also take concrete steps to ensure that the people victimized by crime are treated as people, not just as evidence in an investigation.


As a result, our work cannot end with the apprehension of the criminal. We must also provide whatever assistance we can to aid the reconstruction of victims’ lives.   I’m not speaking here only of the Department of Justice; I’m speaking, more broadly, about the need for all of society to recognize the value of helping to rebuild the lives of the victims you serve. The Department’s recent accomplishments in strengthening criminal justice in Indian Country, and protecting the interests of crime victims, are evidence that we understand this need and are committed to doing something about it.   


Today, I am pleased to announce that more than $50 million in additional grant funds are being awarded by the Department to help tribal communities for a total of nearly $100 million awarded to tribal communities in 2008.   This additional money will support your development of criminal justice strategies, and the creation and administration of your own solutions to the diverse challenges facing your communities.   We are committed to working as your partner in these efforts.  


This funding includes more than $38 million awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women to support programs that aid victims, including the Legal Assistance for Victims Program, a program designed to increase the availability of legal services to victims of assault, stalking, and domestic violence.


We will also provide more than $3 million in grants to tribal governments to help implement the sex offender registry and notification programs, and more than $8 million to prevent juvenile delinquency and improve tribal juvenile justice systems.  


An additional $7 million in funding will be provided to help tribes build and renovate correctional facilities, while another $5 million will support the Tribal Courts Assistance Program to help tribal justice systems.


With the threat of methamphetamine in mind, more than $3 million will be awarded to help control and prevent crimes associated with the distribution and use of alcohol and controlled substances in tribal communities.


More than $1 million will be awarded to help tribes strengthen their juvenile justice systems by ensuring that young people who violate the law are held accountable for their crimes.  


And finally, nearly $500,000 will be awarded through the Counseling and Faith-Based Services for Crime Victims in Indian Country program.   This money, will help fund many programs that are doing a lot of good in Indian Country.  


But beyond just dollars, the Department of Justice is proud to provide other kinds of support.   For example, our Violence Against Women in Indian Country Task Force recently convened for the first time in Washington.  The task force, composed of tribal domestic violence and sexual assault organizations, tribal governments and national tribal organizations, is assisting the National Institute of Justice and the Office on Violence Against Women with the development and implementation of   a research project on violence against Indian women, including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.  The program will evaluate the effectiveness of the federal, state and tribal response to this violence.  


This support and partnership is the core of our collective strategy to fight crime in America.   And, on a personal level, it's important to me, because I know it works.

Prior to my appointment as Associate Attorney General, I had the privilege of serving as the United States Attorney for Connecticut.   In that job, I had the pleasure of working closely with many outstanding representatives of local, state and tribal law enforcement.   Those interactions constantly reminded me that, for most people, local and tribal officers are the face of law enforcement.   That’s who they turn to in an emergency – like during a natural disaster, or following a crime.  


But that doesn’t mean you should have to deal with crime problems on your own.   Law enforcement is much more effective when we all work together, and the partnership between local law enforcement and the Department of Justice is critical to our success.


That partnership includes tribal law enforcement, and your efforts are extremely important in this fight.   Because millions of people depend upon your services and protection, it’s no exaggeration to say that tribal law enforcement is vital to the security of our country.   Policing in Indian Country is unique.   Your law enforcement agencies are responsible for patrolling more than 55 million acres of land.    The level of coordination and cooperation that is a part of your daily routine, far surpasses that required by most law enforcement agencies.


We know that staffing shortages, changes in personnel, and the need to constantly hire and train new recruits can place serious strains on a law enforcement agency’s budget and management.   We also know that these challenges are often compounded by the vast geographic areas that some of you patrol.   According to the National Congress of American Indians, there are only 2,380 Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal uniformed officers available to serve an estimated 1.4 million Indians in the lower 48 states.  


For example, the Navajo Nation Department of Public Safety and the Reno Police Department in Nevada have roughly the same number of officers and serve populations of similar size.   But the Navajo are responsible for 22,000 square miles, compared to just 57 square miles for Reno.   We recognize and appreciate the tremendous responsibility associated with patrolling such a vast area.


The Department also recognizes the critical role that many of your agencies play in protecting America’s borders.   The Tohono O’Odham Nation shares a 75-mile border with Mexico.   This area is remote and the terrain is harsh.   I know because - with Diane’s assistance - I have flown over this area and seen first-hand the challenges it presents to law enforcement.   It is not uncommon for the Tohono O’Odham police to seize thousands of pounds of illegal drugs smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico over the course of a year, along with hundreds of illegal weapons.  


To help with these efforts, just last month, the Department announced nearly $15 million in grants to 80 tribal police departments and governments in 22 states through the COPS Office’s Tribal Resources Grant Program.   In fact, since 1995, COPS alone has provided more than $329 million to support Native American law enforcement agencies.


We all know that the challenges that confront your communities in some ways mirror the challenges that confront non-tribal communities.   A good example is methamphetamine.


Last year, COPS and the Bureau of Indian Affairs joined forces to take on meth awareness and prevention issues.   Through this partnership, 16 clandestine lab awareness training events were offered in tribal communities across the country.   Each event provided training for both law enforcement officers and citizens on the best strategies their communities can use to fight meth.   Also funded through this partnership were 12 separate, 3-day, classroom and laboratory sessions that were conducted at the BIA training center right here in Albuquerque.   That initiative resulted in more than 550 officers being trained in meth enforcement and safety.


The Department has also funded an in-service, counter-drug training program for more than 350 tribal and BIA police officers and criminal investigators.   This training helped give participants the knowledge and skills necessary to form coalitions in their community and across agencies to fight drugs.


Another threat that this conference appropriately recognizes as facing both tribal and non-tribal communities are crimes against children.   Under Project Safe Childhood, we are working alongside our state, local and tribal colleagues to protect our children from predators.   Our comprehensive strategy involves prevention, enforcement and registration of sex offenders, an area that I know is of special interest to many of you.  


In July 2006, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act which included the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA).   This law established new sex offender registration requirements and a new office to implement the law – the SMART Office.   Earlier laws did not include sex offenders convicted in tribal courts or those entering tribal lands following a conviction elsewhere.   And because of this, some sex offenders considered tribal reservations to be safe havens.  


The SMART Office is working with tribes to change this.   Under SORNA, non-PL 280 tribes can choose to function as a sex offender registration jurisdiction or delegate this responsibility to the state.   The deadline for this decision was July 27, 2007.   Out of 212 eligible tribes, 197 elected to take on the sex offender registration responsibilities.  


SORNA implementation has raised a lot of issues for tribes, including IT capacity, financial resources, jurisdiction, enforcement responsibility, and the development of tribal codes. The SMART Office has been working with leadership from federal agencies, state agencies and tribes in an effort to resolve these issues.


For instance, many tribes are concerned about the technological requirements to register and track sex offenders.   To address this concern, the SMART Office is developing an Indian Country Centralized Sex Offender Registry.   This tool is being created to provide the Indian tribes with a fully functioning sex offender registry system. 


Each tribe that elects to use the centralized registry will have its own public Web site, private administrative Web site and database.  The public Web site will be available on the Internet so the general public can search for sex offenders, and receive notifications of sex offenders residing in their neighborhoods.  


The private administrative Web site will be a secure site that can be used by vetted tribal members to add, edit, and remove registered sex offender information.   Additionally, tribes that use the centralized sex offender registry will automatically participate in the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website.


The SMART Office is working hard to ensure that all tribes have the tools and resources to help make Indian Country a safer place for children.   If you believe more needs to be done to support your efforts in this regard to protect children, please let us know.  


As we look to the future, I am confident that the relationship between the Justice Department and Indian Country will continue to grow stronger, and that together we will make progress on our shared mission to make our communities safer.   In this mission, as in all of our efforts, we depend on our partners in the community and in law enforcement at the tribal, state and local levels.   I greatly admire your commitment to victims of crime and to the public safety of your communities.   Please keep up the great work and be safe.  


Thank you.